On the Feast of Stephen

In the carol “Good King Wenceslas“, we sing that the good king went out to serve a peasant gathering firewood “on the feast of Stephen”. The feast of Stephen is the day after Christmas in the Western calendar [two days after Christmas on the Eastern calendar] and celebrates St. Stephen, the first martyr for Christ (and my Patron Saint). In Acts, chapters 6 and 7, we read that Stephen was chosen to be a special servant of the Church in Jerusalem because he was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. It was in the context of his role as a servant that he was enabled to do miracles among the people, and this drew attention to him both among those open to the Truth of Christ and among those opposed to it. The enemies of the Church soon had Stephen arraigned before a hostile court that threw him out of the city and put to death by stoning.

The proximity of the feast of St. Stephen to Christmas reminds us that the coming of the Prince of Peace is no guarantee of an untroubled life for his followers. Just the opposite in fact: Jesus promised his followers that they would have struggles, that they would have to pick up and carry crosses, just like him. St. Stephen’s example shows us that the way of martyrdom is the prototypical way of the Christian.

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The Great O Antiphons

One of the oldest and most enduring features of Advent in the Western tradition of the Church is the special set of antiphons sung with the Magnificat at Vespers in the days leading up to Christmas Eve. Usually called the “Greater Antiphons” in liturgical books, they’re more colloquially called the “O Antiphons” because each begins with the interjection “O” (O Emmanuel…, etc.).

The oldest and most traditional set of O Antiphons address Christ by seven titles, in this order: Sapientia (Wisdom), Adonai (Lord), Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), Clavis David (Key of David), Oriens (Dayspring/Dawn), Rex Gentium (King of the Nations/Gentiles), and Emmanuel (God-with-us). The first letters of each title going back from Emmanuel (Dec 24) to Sapientia (Dec 17) form the Latin words Ero cras, meaning “Tomorrow I come.” The content of these antiphons was paraphrased as the verses to the Latin hymn Veni Emmanuel, translated into our familiar English hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. While the history of the antiphons and their use is fascinating in itself, the most wonderful thing about them is the theology and spiritual learning that can be unpacked from these pithy poems.

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Advent Music

The season of Advent has arrived. But nothing kicks the legs out from under our observance of Advent like premature Christmas songs. Advent, of course, is the season leading up to Christmas, designed to focus us on the hope and expectation of Christ’s future advent (arrival) and the celebration of his first advent. The spirit of Advent, then, is of watchfulness and waiting. Because of this, Christmas songs are inappropriate to the spirit of the Advent season. They don’t jive; they’re incongruous. Continue reading “Advent Music”

The Human Need for Liturgy

I’m not the biggest college football fan in the world, but I had the privilege of attending the Georgia vs. Georgia Tech game recently with my dad, uncle, and cousin with free tickets from a friend of the family. It’s only the second game I’ve ever been to in person, and the experience is definitely very immersive. And this game just happened to be a rivalry game in UGA’s 80,000 person stadium that was packed out. It was a lot to take in.

But something occurred just before the two teams ran out onto the field that gave me pause and made me experience the whole thing in a different frame of mind: on the giant screen a dramatic video of home team highlights played while an audio clip of the late Larry Munson, legendary Georgia football radio announcer, boomed through the stadium proclaiming boldly that, “There is no tradition more worth of envy, no institution worthy of such loyalty, as the University of Georgia.” Continue reading “The Human Need for Liturgy”

Halloween as Sanity in the Modern World

Halloween is scary — apparently. From every corner of digital Christendom is sounding the quaking alarm that participation in Halloween is tantamount to inviting the devil into your house. Hearsay about pagan origins and evil practices abounds. Even cooler-headed writers skeptical of the dubious beginnings of trick-or-treating and jack-o-lanterns warn that the overall character of Halloween is unprofitable at best and harmful at worst. But there’s a countering voice among Christians (and among people of other religions or none) that Halloween is totally innocent fun, that it’s inconsequential, vacant amusement. I personally think Halloween may be more complex and interesting than either of those positions make it out to be. It may even be a source of sanity in an increasingly insane world. Continue reading “Halloween as Sanity in the Modern World”

Under the Standard of the Cross

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the 14th of September marks the lifting up of the True Cross before the Christians in Jerusalem after the consecration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 335 AD. The lifting up of the Cross as a sign or standard to follow and venerate has been a long-established concept in Christian history. In virtually every depiction of Christ’s descent into hades and his resurrection, he carries the Cross as a scepter or banner. And from ancient prayers and chants to modern Christian hymnody, “the Cross is lifted over us, we journey in its light.

But in Western tradition, there’s one hymn that for its antiquity, universality, and ubiquity stands above the others in its appropriateness on the Feast of the Holy Cross and as a processional song as the Cross is marched before us: The Royal Banners Forward Go. Continue reading “Under the Standard of the Cross”

Western Rite Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Crisis

The Roman Catholic Church is currently in the midst of some very serious scandals. Voices from within that communion are calling it a crisis. Voices from outside that communion are also weighing in on what’s going on, but outsiders’ voices should always be more cautious. And we, as Orthodox Christians, are outsiders. The following advice, like many things that “ought to go without saying,” is something that probably needs to be stated clearly, for the record. Continue reading “Western Rite Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Crisis”

The Tools of the Spiritual Craft

From Chapter 4 of the Rule of Saint Benedict:

First of all, love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Then the following: you are not to kill, not to commit adultery; you are not to steal nor to covet; you are not to bear false witness. You must honor everyone, and never do to another what you would not want done to yourself.

Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ; discipline your body; do not pamper yourself, but love fasting. You must relieve the lot of the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and bury the dead. Go to help the troubled and console the sorrowing. Continue reading “The Tools of the Spiritual Craft”

A Western Rite Album

As Western Rite churches and organizations continue to build up resources, one that deserves more attention is an album of choral music recorded by St. Patrick Orthodox Church in Bealeton, VA. This album’s the first of its kind (that I know of), providing an actual example of what a good Western Rite Orthodox choir can sound like. Scores and hymnals are well and good, but here in this recording is what the music sounds like, what it’s meant to be.

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A Rood Awakening

A major architectural feature of many medieval churches across Europe was the rood screen. “Rood” (from Old English, rōde) means “cross” or “crucifix,” and a rood screen is a partition, usually solid to about waist-high with open tracery above, atop which is a large cross or crucifix, that delineated the nave from the quire and Altar. The immediate visual impact of seeing a screen between the nave and the Altar will be one of familiarity to Orthodox of the Eastern Rite. Continue reading “A Rood Awakening”